Bangladeshis protest gas deal with general strike

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A citizens’ group on Sunday enforced a six-hour general strike in Bangladesh’s capital, partially disrupting businesses and transportation, to demand that the government cancel a gas exploration deal with U.S. energy giant ConocoPhillips.

Video footage of the ATN Bangla television station showed a group of angry protesters smashing a car on the streets. Security officials cordoned off the office of the protesters in downtown Dhaka’s Purana Paltan area.

Two officials of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police said they arrested about 50 protesters who tried to demonstrate, but that some were quickly released. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to media.

Schools were also closed during the strike.

Last month, the government signed a production-sharing contract with ConocoPhillips to explore for gas in deep waters of the Bay of Bengal. ConocoPhillips said it wants to start exploring in two areas covering 1,992 square miles as soon as possible, and that it needs to conduct seismic surveys in two blocks with water depths of 0.6 miles to 0.9 miles.

The government says the deal is necessary to meet growing energy demand for its developing economy, but the group that called the strike — the National Committee on Protection of Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources, Power and Ports — says it compromises Bangladesh’s interests.

The government has accused the critics of misinterpreting some clauses in the deal.

Bangladesh is struggling to meet growing demand for gas.

One forecast predicts that current reserves will run out by 2014-15, and the country is facing up to 250 million cubic feet in gas shortages each day. Bangladesh has proven natural gas reserves of up to 15 trillion cubic feet.

Sangu gas field, operated by Australia’s Santos, is the country’s lone operating offshore gas field. U.S. energy giant Chevron is engaged in Bangladesh’s onshore gas fields, supplying about 50 percent of gas to the national gas line.

Bangladesh, India and Myanmar have competing claims over some areas of the Bay of Bengal, and Bangladesh has petitioned the United Nations in an effort to establish its rights.

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